Do you collect something? A lot of people do, and one of the most common things to collect is stamps. Here you will learn how stamp collecting can be so much fun, where and how to acquire stamps, how to organize your collection, and much, much more.
Philately means “love of taxes,” and since stamps are a tax on delivery of mail, Philately is now accepted as the love of postal items; in plain terms, collecting stamps and other things that have to do with stamps. And one more thing, derived from the word Philately comes the words Philatelic and Philatelist. These two words mean having to do with stamp collecting, and a stamp collector, respectively.
Did you know nearly all collectors are generally more inquisitive and thoughtful people? And if you made a list of the most beneficial things to collect to the least, stamp collecting would be at the top of that list? In stamp collecting, you collect whatever you want, from cats to boats, or education to music. Over 400,000 different stamps have been issued all over the world, so the possibilities are endless!
You may think that having a stamp collection will be too expensive for you, but stamp collecting can be extremely cheap or even free, just set aside envelopes with stamps on them that you get in the mail. Cut out the stamp from the envelope but leave about 1 cm margin. Soak it stamp side up in warm water and wait for about 15 minutes for it to drift off the paper. When this happens, feel the back of the stamp, if it is glossy, leave it in the water longer, if it is not glossy, put the stamp on paper towels and let it air-dry. You can acquire new issues at your local post office at face value, which is now 39c, hence each stamp will be 39c with some exceptions. Packets are little envelopes of all different stamps grouped by country or topic. These are very cheap, some go for only 1 dollar for 50-75 stamps! Kilo ware is unsorted stamps on paper (they still need to be soaked) sold by weight. This is even cheaper than packets because it is random what stamps you get ( there might be some duplicates). Approvals are when a stamp company sends you stamps that you examine for a certain period of time, usually 2 weeks or more. You send in the stamps you don’t want along with payment for the ones you kept.. A mail order catalog is a catalog of stamps along with images. You fill out an order form with the catalog numbers of the stamps you want and send it in, they then send you those exact stamps. If you have a dealer in your area, you’re lucky! They have lots of stamp packets, sets, and all the things mentioned above. They will also have many other Philatelic materials that you can collect along with equipment and catalogs. You can also join a stamp club and trade for stamps or even win some in contests!
With all these stamps, you’ll want a place to put them! You could use an album, which has pictures of specific stamps and you mount them on the right pictures. You have two ways to do this, with mounts or with hinges. Mount are pieces of plastic with clear plastic sleeves on the front. You attach the plastic backing to the paper any way you want, and slip the stamp into the sleeve. Hinges are small strips of plastic coated with gum that only sticks when moisture is applied. They are folded so that one side is shorter than the other. You lick your finger and touch the shorter side and do the same to the long side. Then you stick the short side to the back of the stamp and the long side to the paper. Don’t try to take the stamp off the paper until the hinge is completely dry, that’s when the stamp will peel off easily. This will take a few hours. An alternative to a picture album is a blank album, which has titled graph paper so you can align the stamps any way you want. Still another alternative is the stock book, which is a book with plastic pages interleaved with glassine, an acid free semi-transparent plastic. The actual pages have many strips of clear plastic attached so you can just stick the stamps in. You title these pages yourself, but most people only use a stock book to store duplicates to trade. Dealers usually use stock books to showcase the stamps they have for sale that are low-priced. Sort your stamps any way you want. You could do it by country, by topic, or in no particular order, it’s always your choice!
Errors and inverts are a variety of stamps that were badly made. These are always good to have because they are usually worth a lot. One famous invert was nicknamed the “Jenny Invert.” It is an airmail stamp that depicted an airplane. In one sheet of stamps, the planes were upside down. Just one of these stamps is now worth many thousands of dollars! Damaged stamps can sometimes be mistaken as errors. Stains are an example. A small stain that came from soaking a stamp that was on bright blue paper could be easily mistaken for a smudge in the printing. However if you do have a stamp that is torn, this can be fixed. You should only do this if you are displaying the stamps for yourself and others; never try to sell or trade a fixed stamp without first informing the recipient. For torn stamps, you can flatten out a hinge, moisten both sides, and use it to hold the 2 pieces together. If you have many of the same stamp, you can use the same technique to connect stamps and make your own sheets.
If you are interested in what other philatelic materials are out there, then there’ll be plenty of other things to collect. FDCs (First Day covers) are envelopes or postcards that were postmarked on the first day of issue (or so it seems) of the stamp on the cover. These are actually easy to make yourself, just Google “making FDCs.” There are many other things to collect, like maximum cards, and postmarks.
If you are thinking, “Is there anything else I might need?” well, there is! The first things you’ll want are stamp tongs. These are smooth-edged tweezers used for handling stamps; the oils on your fingers slowly deteriorate stamps. A magnifying glass is nice to have if you want to study your stamps’ designs and spot errors. Not entirely necessary is a perforation gauge, which measures how many perforations (the little bumps on the side of a stamp) there are every 2 cm on a stamp (this is the universal way to measure perfs). Next you will definitely want to get a catalog. If you don’t want approvals, get the Official Blackbook of Stamps for the current year. These are only about 8 dollars. If you are okay with approvals, go to http://www.mysticstamp.com and request their free catalog. It has color pictures of every stamp in it, while the Blackbook has only black and white pictures for some of the stamps. Another good aspect about the Mystic Catalog is that you can order any stamp from it, which is great because they have every US stamp ever printed. The Blackbook just gives you prices. Even the Mystic approvals are great; you get a 21-day examination and they have rock-bottom prices. The last piece of equipment you might need would be a watermark detector. You should only get this if you are starting into very serious collecting. A watermark is a thinning in a stamp to verify if it is genuine. It can also tell if there are any other thin spots, for example from peeling a hinge of a stamp before it is completely dry. Water mark detectors start around $75, so for now just use a piece of black construction paper to place an upside-down stamp on. Experiment with holding it up to the light and other things, but be sure not to damage your stamp.
So if you’ve read everything here and are still not intrigued by stamp collecting, I’m amazed! Stamp Collecting can be for anyone and everyone. You don’t have to even spend a single penny if you don’t want to, but like anything, some pocket change will greatly improve you collecting experience. Then again, you could splurge and make you collection unique and one-of-a-kind; remember, everything in stamp collecting is your choice. There are just so many reasons to try out stamp collecting, so why don’t you. If you are interested, check out http://www.usps.com/ for tons of references and more information. All in all, welcome, to Philately.